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‘Branca Era’ Ends at Country Club; Blackett Named Head Pro
by Joe Watts
2015 marks the end of a long and nostalgic era at “thee” Country Club, an era that will not be replaced, replicated, or equaled by any future era. The last 75 years will always be referred to as ‘thee Branca Era.’
It ends when Ron Branca, the head pro for the past quarter of a century, empties his locker and cleans out his desk at the end of this year. His dad, Utah Golf Hall of Famer Tee Branca, was the head pro at the club for the previous 53 years, taking the head job in 1940 and on through 1993 when the Branca baton was handed to Ron.
The pre-Branca Era at the Country Club started in 1899 and lasted through 1939, a total of a mere 40 years. The Branca Era lasted 75 years, or three-quarters of a century, whichever sounds the longest.
Loyalty has been the defining trait of the relationship between The Country Club and the Brancas, and the Post-Branca Era begins on the same foundation. The Country Club has hired Branca’s long-time loyal assistant Bill Blackett as the new pro to lead into the Post Branca Era.
The Branca baton will be placed in the hands of Blackett at the end of the year. Blackett worked for Tee Branca for two years before Ron took the head job and Blackett has been Ron’s assistant ever since. Talk about loyalty!
Blackett said, “I will do my best to continue the ‘specialness’ at the club. Working with Ron all these years has been very special.”
“I am really pleased the committee picked my assistant to carry on the traditions of the club. He has done a marvelous job all these years and was a key to our success. He will carry on without a hitch. It’s been an incredible pleasure for me to be the professional at The Country Club. The experience has been beyond all my expectations. Our members are successful people in all walks of life and getting to know them has been enriching,” Branca said.
“We have ever changing presidents and board members and observing their leadership traits has been a wonderful experience. The recent renovations have been a big plus and the course is in better shape than it has ever been. There is a bright future for The Country Club,” Branca commented.
“I have many fond memories of the members and admire them. Take Spence Eccles for an example. He’s 80 years old now, gets up in the morning and plays a couple of sets of tennis and then hits a bucket or two of balls on the range, and always has something good to say. Our members are a continual inspiration and they make it a special place to be,” Branca said.
“Another highlight of the club is our wonderful staff in all departments. Our general manager, Amedee Moran, has provided stable leadership throughout my time. We were hired at the same time and have shared all these years together. He has been great to work with. It’s not often, maybe never, that the general manager and head professional of a country club were hired at nearly the same time and went without turnover for 25 years. It’s an indication of the loyal, steady nature of the club.” Branca noted.
In demonstration of the loyal bind between Branca and the club Amedee announced that, “Ron has been given full club membership rights and will be playing golf and lunching with the members like he has for 25 years. Ron is a world class pro, and he did a world class job at The Country Club and we are all pleased that he will remain associated with the club as a member.”
One of Ron’s longtime friends and playing partners is Steve Brinton who is the current president of the Utah Golf Association. Brinton and Ron were teammates at Highland and Brinton has been a member of The Country Club during all the years Ron was head pro.
Brinton said, “Ron has been a lifelong friend, mentor, instructor and golf partner. We have traveled together and played in pro am’s around the country. In every case his friendly ways, upbeat personality and gracious style have made him a wonderful person to be around. He is universally liked by everyone, and now I may even get to play more golf with him.”
Arnie Ferrin, long time athletic director at the University of Utah and member of the club, hired Ron as the golf coach at the university. Of Branca’s retirement he said, “The Branca name is iconic in Utah golf and the entire family has served Utah well. I wish Ron the best, and I’m really pleased to hear that Bill Blackett was hired to take his place. It’s the perfect choice and makes it easier to accept Ron’s retirement.”
Branca’s reach has not been limited to The Country Club. He played high school golf at Highland High School under coach Al Cornum back in the early days of prep golf and then played collegiately at the University of Utah in the beginning years of college golf and a few years later became the coach of the team. He was the head coach at the University of Utah for 15 years, from 1978 through 1993.
His associates from Highland and the University of Utah have played prominent roles in Utah golf such as Doug Vilven, Steve Elliott, Eric Hogg, Steve and Greg Sharp, Don and Dave Johnson, Steve Mahas, Scott Brandt, Reed McArthur, Matt Johnson, Eric Nielsen, Devin Dehlin, Doug Roberts, and many others including Wayne Fisher, who has been Ron’s sidekick for close to 30 years while working for him as an assistant at Rose Park, Wingpointe and The Country Club. Fisher also succeeded Ron as the men’s golf coach at the University of Utah.
His brother Don has played a big part in his life. Don was the head pro at Park Meadows and Willow Creek Country Club and won the Utah State Am twice, including when it was held at The Country Club in 1975. Their mom, Cleo, was also a wonderful player and won significant Utah women’s tournaments, including the Utah Women’s State Am at The Country Club in 1948.
Ron’s son, Mike, is also one of Utah’s top amateur golfers. He played golf at Brighton High and at the University of Utah and briefly worked for the UGA in administering golf tournaments state wide before moving to employment in the financial industry.
“I have wonderful family, friends, and associates who have enriched my golfing experience,” Ron said. “It’s been a great time to be involved with Utah golf.”
Ron’s first professional job was as head professional at Rose Park in 1976, a job he held for 17 years. He became the first head pro at Wingpointe in 1990.
“That was the heyday of Salt Lake City golf,” he said. “That was back when the professionals were concessionaires and they had a stake in the success of the courses. When the city switched management arrangements the pros warned that it would be a mistake, but the city switched and sure enough, golf hasn’t been as good in Salt Lake City ever since,” Branca observed.
The change of management policy was the impetus for Ron to leave public golf and go to The Country Club as his dad’s assistant. A few months later Tee retired and the club passed the Branca baton to Ron.
As expected of a top golf professional Ron has been an outstanding player and teacher. He was named Teacher of the Year twice and the Merchandiser of the Year by the Utah Section of the PGA. In 2003 he was named Utah’s Senior Player of the Year and won the Utah Section Senior Championship twice.
Ron is still young and after a brief respite will be tackling other challenges and opportunities.
Let the Post Branca Era begin and best wishes to Bill Blackett.